NIH study: Is your home making you sick?

Wonder why your eyes water and you sneeze a lot of home?

Your home may be making you sick.

Ninety percent of homes were found to have three or more detectable allergens and 73 percent had at least one allergen at elevated levels.

That’s according to researchers from the National Institutes of Health, which recently conducted the largest indoor allergen study to date. Their findings were published Nov. 30 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

“Elevated allergen levels can exacerbate symptoms in people who suffer from asthma and allergies, so it is crucial to understand the factors that contribute,” Darryl Zeldin, M.D., senior author and scientific director at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said in a release. 

Using data from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey , the researchers studied levels of eight common allergens – cat, dog, cockroach, mouse, rat, mold, and two types of dust mite allergens – in the bedrooms of nearly 7,000 U.S. homes. 

The results may not please too many pet owners. The presence of pets and pests had a major influence on high levels of indoor allergens. Housing characteristics also mattered – elevated exposure to multiple allergens was more likely in mobile homes, older homes, rental homes and homes in rural areas. 

There were other differences as well.

Elevated dust mite allergen levels, for example, were more common in the South and Northeast and in regions with a humid climate. Levels of cat and dust mite allergens were also found to be higher in rural areas than in urban settings. Exposure and for sensitizationcockroach allergens was also more common in the South. 

The team uncovered several differences. Although males and non-Hispanic blacks were less likely to be exposed to multiple allergens, sensitization was more common in these groups, compared to females and other racial groups. 

The researchers emphasized that the relationships between allergen exposures, allergic sensitization, and disease are complex. Studies are still investigating how allergen exposures interact with other environmental and genetic factors that contribute to asthma and allergies. 

Below are tips to reduce the amount of indoor allergens and irritants:

  • Vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture every week. 
  • Wash sheets and blankets in hot water every week. 
  • Encase mattresses, pillows, and box springs in allergen-impermeable covers. 
  • Lower indoor humidity levels below 50 percent. 
  • Removing pets from homes or at least limiting their access to bedrooms. 
  • Seal entry points and eliminating nesting places for pests, as well as removing their food and water sources. Each night pick up your pet’s water and food bowls as well.

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